In 1857 Sir James Yorke Scarlett was appointed Lieut. Governor of Portsmouth, a position he occupied for the next three years. The role of Lieutenant Governor was to oversee all matters relating to the military life in the town but as far as entries in the Hampshire Telegraph were concerned, the post seemed to constitute little more than a constant round of ceremonial occasions; parades, inspections, charitable meetings and attendence at court, particularly when Queen Victoria was in residence at Osborne. One of his more lasting achievements was the final levelling of Southsea Common, which was still owned by the government, a process that had been going on for many years. This reportedly entailed dumping tons of earth on the shingle that spread over much of the area, the work being carried out by convicts.
At the end of March 1860 General Scarlett was appointed Adjutant-General to the forces at Horse Guards but before he left Portsmouth he gave instructions that a drinking fountain should be erected in his name on the road outside Clarence Pier. A highly ornate structure that featured in the London Illustrated News, the fountain remained a notable feature on the common for around 100 years before it was removed and subsequently lost. Scarlett left Portsmouth to general regret as he had been a popular figure, not least because of the reputation as a soldier of great courage that had preceded him.
James Yorke Scarlett (1799–1871) was born in London on 1 February 1799, the second son of James Scarlett, first Baron Abinger (1769–1844), and his first wife, Louisa Henrietta (d. 1829), daughter of Peter Campbell of Kilmory, Argyll. He attended Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge and was gazetted cornet in the 18th light dragoons in 1818. He later studied at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. In December 1822 he became lieutenant in the 6th dragoon guards and within 3 years attained the rank of captain. In 1830 he was gazetted major 5th dragoon guards. On 19 December 1835 he married Charlotte Anne, daughter and co-heir of Colonel Hargreaves of Burnley, Lancashire.
For five years from 1836 to 1841 Scarlett was a loyal Conservative MP for Guildford but before completing his term was promoted to the command of his regiment, the 5th dragoon guards, a post he retained for over thirteen years. By 1854 he had considered retirement but the advent of the Crimean War drew him back to the action where he was given command of the Heavy Brigade. He did not take part in the battle of Alma as the nature of the terrain was unsuitable for his brigade and so first saw action at Balaclava.
Early in the morning of 25 October 1854 a large Russian force, which included a strong force of cavalry, attacked and captured some of the earthworks which protected the allied rear; they continued to advance threatening the British base and harbour at Balaklava. Scarlett had been quick to place his brigade under arms, but before he could attack, received orders from Lord Raglan to move to Kadikoi, an important tactical point. While they were marching there they cam across a force of about 2000 enemy cavalry. This surprised both sides but the Russians were first to take advantage. Scarlett reacted quickly orderingthe three squadrons nearest to him, the Inniskilling and Scots Greys to wheel, and, placing himself at the head of this small force of barely 300, drove straight uphill at the enemy. The Russians were astonished at the audacity of charging with such an outnumbered force and they slowed to a trot, before finally halting. Scarlett continued to engage the enemy and with his remaining squadrons having joined him, set about breaking up the Russian column. Though in the thick of the melee Scarlett emerged unharmed with no more than a dent in his helmet.
Later that day the Light Brigade made their suicidal charge that ended in disarray and which Scarlett intended to redress. He took his dragoons into 'the valley of death' and was making to charge the Russian guns once more when the commander, Lord Lucan, ordered him to retreat. Scarlett maintained thereafter that he could have captured and carried off the twelve Russian guns at the head of the valley. For his services at Balaklava he was promoted a major-general, and in 1855 he was made a KCB.
In April 1855 Scarlett returned to England, but was soon appointed to succeed Lord Lucan in the command of the British cavalry in the Crimea. He was initially reluctant to accept the post but he nevertheless returned to the Crimea. The force he had inherited were not the fighting force of the previous year having been decimated by service, climate and disease. Raw recruits now filled the gaps and it was only by dint of Scarlett's will that he brought them to a condition of efficiency, though he said he would not have fought another Balaklava with them.
At the end of the war Scarlett was appointed to command the cavalry at Aldershot (together with General Lord W. Paulet); from there he was transferred to Portsmouth for his three year period as Lieut. Governor. He was promoted to lieutenant-general in 1862 and in 1865 was selected for the prize of home appointments, command of the Aldershot camp. He remained there until November 1870, when he resigned the command and retired from active service. He died suddenly on 6 December 1871 at his residence, Bank Hall, near Burnley, Lancashire.
Dictionary of National Biography (Entry by Henry Knollys, rev. James Falkner)
"Heroes of the Crimea" by Michael Barthorp
The London Illustrated News
The Hampshire Telegraph